Written By Kim Moran, CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario.
Recently, Children’s Mental Health Ontario and some of its nearly 100 mental health service providers met with Ontario MPPs and the Ontario Finance Minister as the Government of Ontario decides what programs and services it will prioritize in 2018. Kids mental health experts and youth mental health advocates have been sharing their experiences and alerting politicians that there is a children's mental health crisis. Read what they shared, along with solutions to the crisis from Children's Mental Health Ontario.
As a Chartered Professional Accountant, I recognize that tough choices are made in budgets. As a parent of a child with a severe mental illness, I will explain how it makes good financial sense to invest in children’s mental health.
We know how to prevent suicide, expert report after expert report, all say that providing psychotherapy – and other forms of counselling and therapy, when kids need it can avert crisis. But the current provision of mental health services is almost entirely focused on waiting until kids become acutely ill to provide services. When my daughter was having suicidal thoughts, we were told to wait until she had a suicidal plan. It’s kind of like telling a kid with cancer to wait until it has spread all over their body before you act. It’s unacceptable.
And though we know treatment works, we allow kids to wait for treatment. CMHO has reported long wait times throughout Ontario, sometimes up to 18 months. In Barrie, an 11-year-old, that is highly depressed, and not going to school, can wait a year. A highly anxious 13-year-old boy, who destroys a classroom and assaults a teacher, might get crisis treatment for a few days and then be put on a list to wait for longer-term counselling. And when kids are waiting for treatment in their community, they often end up in hospitals. Hospitals might stabilize them, keep them for a few days and then discharge them back home, where they’ll continue to wait in long lines for treatment.
Almost 1/4 of kids in Ontario report having missed school due to anxiety; and more than 1/3 of parents report having to take time off work to help them, at an enormous economic cost. Of all the kids who try to access mental health treatment – more than 40% indicate they couldn’t access the treatment they needed.
And we know that untreated mental illness is not just heartbreaking, but it is a financial issue. Over the past decade we’ve seen a 67% increase in kids going to the hospital with mental health concerns. This is costing the government well over $190M a year and contributes to overcrowding. We also know that the reason for this is that the government has cut spending for treatment in the community sector over the last 25 years by over 50%. Those figures are undeniable, unconscionable, unacceptable. And the consequences are that youth continue to die by suicide. It’s a crisis.
You may say: why has this happened, the government has talked a lot about their commitment to mental health? In 2011 the government made smart investments in schools to better promote mental wellness and to get kids talking about mental health issues early. This is helping teachers identify early warning signs and it’s helping kids come forward to seek help. Over 60 kid’s mental health walk-in clinics are open. But services can’t keep up with a tsunami of demand.
A full 50% of kids in walk-in clinics need much more intensive services and they wait, the kids that shouldn’t wait, are the ones that wait. Crisis services that were 24/7 are now 9 to 5. This is because the government has failed to bolster the capacity of community agencies to hire professional therapists, social workers and psychologists. There have been no base funding increases in children’s mental health agencies since 2005. Along with inflation and now the costs related to the new Minimum Wage Legislations, capacity has fallen by about 50% when arguably, we needed to double it. Some agencies have indicated that they will have to close their doors altogether – leaving kids and families with no options for local treatment at all. In fact, this might even be happening in one of your ridings.
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s stated aim has been to decrease spiralling healthcare costs by investing in home and community care. And, they have made some strong, targeted investments in adult mental health. Unfortunately, child and youth mental health, despite huge demand, has not benefitted. Minister Hoskins announced a small investment in Youth Wellness Hubs in 9 communities -- a good idea to co-locate services, but be well aware that the initiative does not add more treatment services and it is only in 9 communities. Kids need a much more comprehensive solution to ensure that there is high quality treatment available to all children and youth in Ontario.
We have a plan that the government can easily implement, that could make Ontario a global leader in mental health for kids. It will ensure that youth get the treatment they need by investing $120M in child and youth mental health centres throughout the province, the government will save $190M each year in hospital costs and help reduce hospital over-crowding. A win for kids and a win for government.
With $120M in investment into children’s mental health agencies we can:
- Ensure that no child or youth waits more than 30 days for treatment – for youth in communities all over Ontario and for youth in post-secondary institutions.
- Expand specialized youth mental health centres for kids with the most severe mental health issues and
- Retain highly skilled staff to care for our most vulnerable children
Child and youth mental illness has been ignored for too long. We have called for investment each and every year with little response by government. We are losing too many kids to suicide each year. It’s way past time to act. Funding for community mental health treatment for children and youth must be addressed in the 2018 Budget.
Show your support for child and youth mental health care. Visit www.kidsmentalhealthcantwait.ca to send Premier Wynne a letter telling her that you think child and youth mental health needs funding now. It will take less than a minute of your time.